Children learn leadership skills while giving back to others.
Some camps offer programs not only to enrich abilities — sport or academic, but also provide opportunities to help others.
Children go to camp to make friends and interact with peers in a fun, outdoor environment. They might also want to sharpen a skill by attending an academic or sports camp. For school-age children and teens, some camps offer programs that not only enrich their abilities, but also provide opportunities to help others.
Volunteering Their Time
Camps with outreach programs are growing across the country. In fact, nearly half of all camps report having community service or a good deed agenda incorporated into their programs, according to the American Camp Association’s 2013 Emerging Issues Survey.
The top projects conducted at camps were community cleanups, food drives, recycling programs, and volunteering with senior citizens and hospital patients. These camps are offering students an opportunity to help others within the confines of the camp as well as in surrounding neighborhoods and cities.
Some are not only putting their students to work in these regions, but also teaching them why it’s important to help. For example, Hathaway Brown School’s Philanthropy Camp in Shaker Heights teaches teens about the complexities of philanthropy. The students will hear pitches from various applicants and then come up with ways to raise money and support for those programs. Best known as a school for girls in grades kindergarten through 12, its day camps are coed and open to students from throughout the region, says Jason Habig, director of summer programming.
Other programs will put the students into the community, help them find meaningful volunteer work and then have a discussion on what they’ve done. Habig said the process is a vital component of the program. He notes that other places, such as Lakewood, have been at the forefront of service-based summer camps.
This is the first year for a summer camp of this nature at Hathaway Brown and is based on parent and student interest. “It’s hard for (younger) high school kids to find meaningful volunteer work,” he says. “A lot of families want their kids to give back and understand their community.”
The J Teen Camp for seventh through ninth graders has many opportunities for students to offer their time and talent. The camp, sponsored by the Mandel Jewish Community Center in Beachwood, has students collect items for and work at the Fieldstone Farm therapeutic horse riding center, volunteer at the Hebrew Cultural Gardens or participate in swim-a-thons for scholarship dollars. They gather clothing and shoes for needy children, take trips to community service organizations and learn about ways to help in the community, says Ari Golub, director of the day camp and children programs.
Each year about 750 children participate in Mandel JCC day camps. Students do not have to be Jewish to participate.
Training To Be Leaders
Teens don’t have to go outside of their camp walls to help others. Some camps provide ways for campers to do projects or work on leadership skills while at the facility. Michael Landry, camp director at YMCA Camp Y-Noah in Clinton, says the camp adheres to core values that include youth development, healthy living and social responsibility.
Service projects generally take place informally within the confines of the camp because of transportation and other issues. The camp also offers a two-week residential opportunity for 15-year-old campers called Leaders-In-Training. The students work on communication, problem solving and group dynamics, according to the camp’s website.
The next level is Counselors-In-Training (CIT). For three-weeks, teens work with younger campers, live in a cabin with campers and other staff and volunteer at the Akron Rotary Camp to help children with special needs. The final step comes at age 17 when the best CITs are asked to become Staff-In-Training members. They live in a cabin with an experienced counselor and help run camp programs, Landry says.
Venturing Into The Community
Camp Christopher in Bath Township has been in the community for 90 years and is owned and operated by the Diocese of Cleveland’s Catholic Charities. The diocese encompasses an eight-county region — including Cuyahoga, Summit, Lorain, Lake, Geauga, Medina, Wayne and Ashland — and oversees numerous community programs such as food banks, shelters and immigrant services. Campers do not need to be Catholic or members of the Cleveland Diocese to attend Camp Christopher.
Camp Christopher has programs for students and children with disabilities in both residential and day camps. Camp director Amanda Schuster says the most competitive program is its Leadership Camp. Seventeen-year-olds can apply for admission by submitting an essay and application for the program that accepts only 40 students a summer.
The two-week residential camp allows the teens to shadow camp staff while being immersed in a variety of leadership programs. They also participate in service programs by volunteering at Catholic Charities sites such as its adult day services program or food pantry.
Schuster said the program has increased in demand, in part because some schools require community service hours. In other cases, students seem to find the leadership training invaluable and believe the volunteer work can help when the time comes for applying to college or for employment.
Another camp that ventures into the community is The Chapel’s Camp Carl, which is located outside of Ravenna. “We believe we should not just be a doing church but a living church,” says director Mike Landis of the leadership program. Throughout the three weeks, students identify their special gifts and come up with a plan to share those gifts at places such as First Glance teen rec center and other community outreach programs. Landis said programs like those are “a way to honor God first and foremost. When you put yourself into the community, it allows (teens) to think above and outside themselves.”